3 VOICE TIPS the Best Speakers Know: Coronavirus Interview Lessons

The best speakers know how to use voice patterns to earn credibility. Most likely you have heard someone say, “It is not what you said. It is how you said it.” Every day your voice patterns greatly impact if people accept or reject your ideas. This is why when we coach people to be better speakers and spokespersons we often address voice patterns first. Unfortunately, men and women are not judged with the same criteria when it comes to voice patterns. But there are some voice principles that are true for everyone. You can use these voice tips to become a better speaker and increase your influence.

Speakers’ Lessons: Coronavirus Interview

This week we saw a great example of how voice patterns impact a speaker’s credibility. Coronavirus is the biggest news on the planet right now. Dr. Anne Schuchat, MD, is the CDC’s Principal Deputy Director. As one of their top media spokespersons she is leading most of their coronavirus news briefings. The CDC got everyone’s attention when they delivered this dire warning: Americans should be prepared for the disease to disrupt daily life. This prompted CBS News This Morning to invite Dr. Schuchat on as their lead guest. It was obvious the news anchors pushed back to some of Schuchat’s messages. But, why?

Speakers & First Impressions

I asked some of my associates to listen to Dr. Schuchat’s interview on CBS News. I wanted to test their first reactions to the doctor’s messages and delivery. Without exception, they had slight to medium negative reactions to the doctor and therefore, her message. This also happens every day as you speak or present. Within eight to thirty seconds others make a snap decision about you and what you are saying. They decide if they find you credible or not. This happens to all speakers and media spokespersons.

Here is the breakdown of our team’s analysis of the CDC’s media spokesperson. There are three key reasons why the CBS News Anchors appeared to push back on some of Dr. Schuchat’s messages. Think about how you can use these three tips to improve your credibility the next time you speak or present!

1. Mismatched Voice Patterns 

Dr. Schuchat has what we call a very approachable voice pattern. This means her voice pattern goes up at the end of most phrases. The good news is that this voice quality makes the doctor very relatable and approachable. However, this voice pattern does not fit a serious topic like coronavirus. This deadly virus is scary. Therefore, it calls for a more serious voice tone. Here is the rub for many female speakers! In our 25 plus years of preparing leaders for speeches, we have discovered that females must deliver serious news in a wider variety of tones (than males) to be viewed as credible. Many female speakers are not aware that they tend to favor the approachable pattern.

2. Speakers’ Nonverbal Cues 

There is a very famous study that shows the meaning of your message is primarily determined by nonverbal cues. Your pace and voice tone account for a very big portion of your nonverbal communication! When you deliver a message with an approachable voice pattern the rest of your nonverbals tend to follow. This is why Dr. Schuchat’s facial features had a certain lightness to them. She appeared to have a slight smile throughout many parts the media interview. Her chin was up and so were her eyebrows. In contrast, the CBS News anchors had serious voice tones, with chins down and furrowed brows. Viewers see this interview, and something feels “off”. It feels off because there is a strong mismatch of nonverbal cues.

3. Speakers’ Energy Levels

The pace of delivery is another element that impacts if people find your messages credible or not. Pace is often interpreted as a speaker’s energy level. You may notice that the CBS News anchors questioning Dr. Schuchat were doing so with a quick, clipped pace. In contrast, the doctor answered the media questions at a much more relaxed pace and energy. Her chilled cadence was more suitable for speaking about a pleasant topic like how sunshine is good for your health or why vacations are good for the soul. The doctor’s energy level just didn’t quite fit the context of the deadly coronavirus.

Improving Speaking Skills

When we coach executives or media spokespersons to improve their speaking skills, we often address voice patterns first. The reason is when you get this crucial nonverbal cue right, everything else is easier. Keep this in mind the next time you are listening to a speaker, presenter or spokesperson. If you find yourself reacting negatively to their message, focus on their voice patterns. Those patterns are often at the heart of why you accept or reject a speaker and their message!


If you would like to help your team members become more influential speakers, feel free to CONTACT US. Benchmark offers actionable and relevant consulting, training and coaching services. We have a proven track record of delivering solutions for Fortune 500 leaders and organizations.

Gail Borden enjoys studying human behavior and all things communication! Her core mission is helping people realize their full potential by tapping into their hidden gifts. She lives on a Texas ranch with her family, horses, dogs, chickens and other animals. She is passionate about supporting local animal rescue groups. She is a believer and loves all things outdoors.